Woke hammers and racist nails

It appears that COVID-19 afflicts and kills blacks at higher rates than whites. The virus is more dangerous to people who have diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity. Since blacks have these conditions at higher rates than whites, the virus has taken a higher toll on them. To the woke, there can only be one explanation for this: racism.

Usually, progressives are not burdened by the same inquisitiveness the rest of us have when confronted with a situation like this. They have no inclination to ask: could there be cultural, geographic, or biological reasons for this, or any other disparity? Could the diet of blacks be different than other group’s which in turn contributes to higher rates of comorbidities? Most American blacks either live in the South or are only a few generations removed from southern ancestors. Since America’s regional cuisines are different, this may contribute to the higher rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and susceptibility to COVID-19. Such a thesis is not the intellectual comfort food of progressives.

Are blacks and other groups complying with social distancing and other public health mandates at the same rates? Is any media outlet brave enough to even ask this question?

What if there is a biological reason for the disparity? It’s universally accepted that for evolutionary reasons, blacks are susceptible to sickle-cell anemia. Could there be a similar accident of biology than makes blacks more vulnerable to this virus? I have no idea, but before shouting the “R” word like a Tourette’s tic, can we at least inquire about it?

Before relegating this disparity to the usual intellectual hole, can we at least look at its complex shape? The same data that shows blacks being hit harder by COVID-19 also shows Asian-Americans and Hispanics impacted at lower rates than their percentage of the population with Hispanics faring better than whites. This fact should prevent the truly curious from making a snap judgement about white supremacy as an explanation. Unfortunately, many progressives will continue to push racism like a dim child forcing a square peg in a round hole.

There are real costs to this intellectual laziness. If the source of the disparity is cultural or biological, we will spend time and resources fighting the racist boogeyman instead on more productive actions like trying to change a culture or developing treatments that recognize biological reality. For example, different hypertension drug combinations appear to have varying effectiveness depending on a patient’s race. Perhaps the same could be true for COVID-19 treatments.

Instead, quickly concluding that the COVID-19 disparity is caused by racism will likely fuel unfortunate trends in medicine like medical schools making curriculums ever more woke. Standards will continue to erode in medical education like the recently announced change in the USMLE Step 1 board exam taken by second-year medical students. The exam will become pass/fail instead of the current three-digit score. There are efforts to make residency programs more “anti-racist” by blinding recruitment committees to applicants’ membership in grade-sensitive honors societies like AOA.

The progressive judgement that the COVID-19 disparity is caused by racism is not only rushed, it is self-serving for a growing medical establishment beholden to a woke orthodoxy.

Randy Boudreaux is an attorney in New Orleans.

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